Sukkot: Reliving Aliyah
BY RABBANIT SHANI TARAGIN
Though Pesach was always my favorite of the three regalim growing up in the Diaspora, since moving to Eretz Yisrael, Sukkot has taken its place. It seems natural that Sukkot should have always been the celebratory “winner,” as simcha is mentioned three times in its context. In addition to perfect weather conditions for sitting outside, Sukkot simultaneously marks the completion of our historical commemoration from Yetziat Mitzrayim–Har Sinai to Eretz Yisrael and our annual agricultural cycle of the three festivals (barley-wheat-fruit). We are commanded to sit in huts to remember our historical journey from Egypt to the Land of Israel in the hut-ridden wilderness, and to celebrate with our agricultural fruits and branches – etrog, lulav, hadassim and aravot. The happiness of Sukkot is amplified through this dual “closure” and offers us an opportunity to pause, remember and reflect on our national and personal journeys of Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael.
Interestingly, both mitzvot of Sukkot express our agricultural and historical dependence on G-d’s supervision as we transitioned from our transient state in the desert to our permanent homes in Eretz Yisrael. The sukkot (huts) remind us of the shelter provided by Hashem throughout our journey in the wilderness, and of the practical means of dwelling in the fields during harvest season in the Land. The Ba’al HaRokeach teaches that the sukkot are reminiscent of the military huts we camped in during our years of siege and conquest of Eretz Yisrael, recalling the final stage of our journey as we entered the Land and fought for sovereignty. Rashbam explains that the sukkot remind us of our nomadic years bereft of a Land, preventing us from feeling too smug and arrogant as we recall our homeless past and appreciate our Homeland and homesteads anew. The sukkot are reflective of our stages of Aliyah as demonstrated during the time of Shivat Tzion. “The whole community that returned from the captivity made booths and dwelt in the booths – the Israelites had not done so from the days of Joshua son of Nun to that day – and there was very great rejoicing” (Nechemia 8:17). Professor Yehuda Felix notes that “not since the days of Joshua the son of Nun had the country enjoyed such an ample supply of building timber for the construction of the booths in fulfillment of the biblical injunction” (Nature & Man in the Bible).
The four species also express our stages of national transition from exile to Aliyah, akin to when we bring our bikkurim fruits and recount our journey from nomads to Israeli citizens. The lulav represents our first stage in the wilderness when we dwelled in palm-covered huts for shelter (סֻכּוֹת מַמָּשׁ). The aravot remind us of the Jordan River crossing (עַרְבוֹת יְרִיחוֹ), abundant with willows along the border to Eretz Yisrael. The hadassim are reminiscent of the Land’s wild flora before the conquest and settlement. And the etrog? Just like the fruits accompanying the recital of mikra bikkurim, the etrog is the culmination of our historical process – the expression of our G-d granted fruit harvest (Nogah HaReuveni, Nature in our Biblical Heritage)!
The four species also symbolize the continued settlement of the land, reflecting the stages of agricultural growth and development from the “lulav” (bark of a tree) to the branches of the “hadas,” further developing leaves of the “arava” and finally the fruit of the “etrog.” Rambam notes that these species encompass universal blessings – the trees, leaves, herbs and fruit – a historical reminder of leaving the barren wilderness bereft of water resources and fruit trees for the abundance of the Land of Israel (Moreh Nevuchim 3:43).
Lastly, these species reflect different communities throughout Eretz Yisrael. The lulav represents the areas of deserts and valleys (e.g. Mitzpe Yericho, Ma’aleh Adumim); the hadassim grow primarily in the mountains (e.g. Gush Etzion, Golan); the arava by river banks (e.g. Beit Shemesh); and the etrog in irrigated fields (e.g. Rechovot, Ra’anana).
Each day of Sukkot we circle the mizbe’ach or bima while holding the four species, leading up to seven rotations on Hoshana Rabbah. Some explain that we do this to remember Israel’s miraculous victory after circling the walls of Yericho in a similar manner (Yerushalmi, Sukkah ch.4). Rav Yaakov Ettlinger (Aruch LaNer, Sukkah 45b) explains that this is the basis of our happiness and gratitude expressed on Sukkot through a complete Hallel. Although we are grateful on Pesach and Shavuot as we recount the miracles of Yetziat Mitzrayim and Ma’amad Har Sinai, the primary praise we offer G-d is for the miracles performed in Eretz Yisrael, beginning with the victory of Yericho. We take our agricultural species and relive our historical journey as we celebrate entering Eretz Yisrael and choosing communities blessed with different resources – then and now!
Rabbanit Shani Taragin is Educational Director of Mizrachi and the Director of the Mizrachi-TVA Lapidot Educators’ Program.